SE: Robertson Refelcts on K-State Years

Joe Robertson

Feb. 9, 2012

Editor's Note: Last month Sports Extra featured 92-year-young Dr. Robert Hardin as the oldest living Kansas State football letterman. Wearing his mid-1940s letterman's jacket, Hardin attended the Golden Cats festivities at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. It's only fitting now that we bring to life the story of 93-year-young Joe Robertson, who is believed to be the oldest living men's basketball letterman, who recently attended the Legends Reunion prior to the recent K-State vs. Oklahoma basketball game in his letterman's jacket.

By Mark Janssen

Joe Robertson made the trip to take a look-see at Kansas State's milling school during the summer of 1936, but he admits that just might have been the cutesy co-eds of the school and the area dance floors that brought him to the Wildcat campus.
 
"My goodness, I thought I had died and gone to heaven," quipped Robertson of his first trip to Manhattan. "I came to campus to investigate the academics, but sure had a good time to boot."
 
Robertson had made the trip from Brownstown, Ind., where he was part of a multi-generation milling family.
 
After checking into the Wareham Hotel, he walked across Poyntz Avenue to grab a bite to eat at Shu's Cafe where he was told about a dance that evening.
 
Almost humming the tunes of the 1930s, Robertson mentioned Mary Beth Smith and Maxine Danielson by dance partner name when he said, "We danced to `Jimmy Joy and his Seven Clouds of Joy.' The top song was `It's a Sin To Tell A Lie.' (Laughing) That dance confirmed that I was coming to Kansas State."
 
It was later that Robertson put his athleticism and agility to work to the tunes of the Matt Betton Orchestra at Aggieville's Avalon Ballroom. "Matt was as good as Benny Goodman," said Robertson."
 
Robertson would later marry a K-State Pi Phi by the name of Virginia Baxter, who just happened to be Miss K-State Manhattan, and a Miss America regional contestant.
 
For sure, Robertson was a go-getter on, and off, the dance floor. He made $1,200 in commissions one year selling advertising for the Royal Purple Yearbook, was President of Blue Key, and later became the No. 1 student in the College of Agriculture.
 
Oh, and he also was a member of coach Frank Root's Kansas State basketball team the first three years, and then Jack Gardner's first team in 1939-40.
 
"Someone told me that I did everything at K-State but sleep," laughed Robertson, who continues to live in his hometown of Brownstown, Ind. "I was a short forward. I wasn't all-conference or anything like that, but I was good enough to letter three years."
 
Saying that he was a pretty good shooter, Robertson said, "I had several games of 10 points, which was quite a few. Remember, it was a slower game back then because after every made basket you would go back and have a center jump. It was a different game."
 
Other Robertson highlights included playing in the first game in the Chicago Coliseum in 1937 when the `Cats played Loyola-Chicago, playing against Phog Allen-coached Kansas teams, and playing in Gardner's first win over Baker, 35-33, to open the 1939-40 season.
 
He adds with a chuckle, "I was K-State's No. 23 before Mitch Richmond came around."
 
Oh, and then there was the Oklahoma game when Robertson suffered a broken ankle, but taped it up and played the rest of the game.
 
"That's why I wanted this win so much," Robertson said of the Wildcats' loss to Oklahoma on Legends Reunion game when he visited the K-State campus on Jan. 28. "I wanted to get back at them."
 
Coming from Indiana where basketball was king in the prep ranks, playing in big-time facilities was nothing new to Robertson, which left him less than awed by the 2,800-seat Nichols Gymnasium on the K-State campus.
 
"It had a neat atmosphere, but it was small. There were people literally sitting and hanging on the rafters. I'm not kidding!" reflected Robertson. "The place was just jammed with people."
 
Robertson says he still follows the Wildcats and returns for reunions whenever possible.
 
"You hear so many stories, and remember ... K-Staters are some of the biggest names in the history of the game," said Robertson ... his tone one of pride. "Tex Winter is one of the greatest coaches ever. He and Phil Jackson ruled the NBA and you see a lot of schools still using the triangle offense (invented by Winter) today. There's just nobody better than Tex."
 
And to Robertson, there's no milling school better than Kansas State's.
 
"I've been around the world four times and in over 160 countries and you can always find a Kansas State tie," said Robertson. "K-State's milling school is truly international. If you're from K-State people think you're supposed to know something."
 
The Robertson Corporation milling business is 128 years old and dates back to the steel roller mills, being among the first to sell wheat bran as feed, inventing self-rising flour, the "Triple-R" balance dog food product, and developing a `glue-extender' in the late-1930s that is still used in the furniture industry.
 
Through his career years in milling, Robertson said, "No matter what subject, I could always find the right person at K-State to help me."
 
Today the Robertson Corporation donates antique mill machinery to the Smithsonian Institute.